Wednesday, February 25, 2004

# Posted 11:26 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

QUIET DIPLOMACY: Conservative critics of the human rights movement often insist that vocal denunciations of abusive governments are counterproductive because such governments refuse to compromise their pride by giving in to public criticism. Thus, conservatives suggest that the most effective method for advancing human rights is for the US government to make its objections known through private diplomatic channels.

There is some evidence that this quiet diplomacy approach is often preferable to public confrontation. For example, the Soviet Union reduced the number of Jews it allowed to emigrate once American activists began to draw attention to the issue. Previously, it had complied with American diplomats' request to let more Jews go.

On the other hand, there are plenty of instances in which quiet diplomacy amounted to no diplomacy. When the US government wanted to deflect criticism from anti-Communist allies, it simply said that it was going to engage in quiet diplomacy. After all, who could say that it wasn't?

I'm bringing this up because the issue of human rights came to mind with regard to Uzbekistan. As things now stand, the US is clearly in bed with the repressive Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov, who -- in spite of his name -- has a habit of doing very nasty things to those who advocate the establishment of an Islamic state.

In honor of Donald Rumsfeld's recent visit, Karimov let a prominent dissident out of jail. While that is good, the US should not make the mistake of confusing symbolism with substance. Now, Rumsfeld is probably right that cooperating with Uzbekistan is necessary at this stage in the war on terror. But that doesn't mean effective pressure can't be exerted behind the scenes.

The Soviet Union could resist pressure from human rights advocates because it was a superpower. But Uzbekistan is an American client. The situation here reminds me of the one in El Salvador in the 1980s. In that instance, the Salvadoran military had no problem figuring out that anything Reagan said about the importance of human rights was just for show, since he never sent a message to San Salvador saying he would actually cut off US aid if the human rights situation didn't improve.

Then, in 1983, in response to tremendous domestic pressure, the administration sent Vice-President Bush to El Salvador to make specific demands and lay out deadlines for compliance. His visit saved hundreds of lives. It also showed that quiet diplomacy can work, but only if the administration has a sincere interest in making it work. Suffice it to say, that isn't the impression Donald Rumsfeld gives off when he's in Uzbekistan.

For more on the Uzbek situation, read Brian Ulrich.
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